Columbus Regional Airport Authority To Take Over FBO Operations At Rickenbacker

Sept. 26--Rickenbacker Airport is a hub for cargo operations and a jumping off point for business aircraft and occasionally passenger planes. What it isn't is profitable.

In a move aimed at bringing it closer to at least breaking even, the Columbus Regional Airport Authority will take over the aircraft service and maintenance operations there, generating about $300,000 a year.

The authority's board yesterday approved the move to take over the fixed-base operator --or FBO --duties previously handled by Lane Aviation.

"(Lane's) lease was up Oct. 15, and they had indicated to us ... they were having trouble making ends meet down there and would be seeking concessions in a new term, which would not work for us," said David Whitaker, vice president of business development for the authority, which oversees Port Columbus and Rickenbacker airports.

"We saw this as an opportunity to take over the FBO operations."

The current lease with Lane generates about $150,000 a year for Rickenbacker, Whitaker said.

Lane officials said the lack of activity at Rickenbacker made it difficult to continue its operations at the airport.

"There's just not enough business down there, especially business aviation," said Lane spokesman Mark Myers.

"The rent was going to be increased, and the terms put us out of the possibility of profitability," he said.

The authority has struggled for years to break even at Rickenbacker, which was converted from a military base to a cargo hub in 1981. While cargo operations are growing, attracting commercial airline operations continues to be a challenge.

Franklin County provided a 10-year, $43 million subsidy to Rickenbacker that was set to expire at the end of 2012. However, the final payment was split between this year and 2013.

Operations at Rickenbacker lost $87,279 in 2011, according to the authority, and the projected loss for this year is about $400,000.

In the past, Myers said, the county subsidy had been used in part to reduce the terms of the lease.

In the initial discussions between the authority and Lane, "We did indicate the ending of the subsidy was a challenge for us financially," Whitaker said.

Lane has been providing FBO services at Port Columbus since 1935 and at Rickenbacker since 1995.

"There's a lot of activity going on now to make sure we have a smooth transition," said Elaine Roberts, CEO of the authority.

Cargo operations are up 18.2 percent --to a total of 103.2 million pounds --for the year through August, the authority reported, although activity was flat last month compared with a year ago.

swartenberg@dipatch.com

@stevewartenberg

Copyright 2012 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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